February 19, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III
It is said that Lincoln frequently jotted words, phrases, sentences on paper scraps that were thrown in a desk drawer. When he neared writing a speech, he took the jottings and assembled his word thoughts as stitched quilt patches, with the whole the message.
That he could do so was his gift; that he did so was ours. Witness the Gettysburg Address, one of the speeches offered in November 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at the famous Civil War battle site.
Controversy remains as to which of several copies of the address was given and from where the president mined the gem of the speech, “But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The last lines, “… government of the people …,” are Lincoln’s simple but reaffirming nod to America’s founders and the journey they set the nation on, one that was to continue in restatement, commitment, fine-tuning.
How many of those vital, defining words were on paper scraps in the president’s desk, jotted down from memory or the influence of others, we will never know.
Were Lincoln alive today, what would he say about what seems to anyone of any political persuasion a great straying of the nation’s original intent?
The growing oligarchy obscenely supported by hidden, special-interest money and the indifference to the humble greatness of a land now raped by greed, lies and deliberate indifference seemingly have buried Lincoln’s words, along with the war dead of the civil conflict, the wars before and after, the dead of government neglect, the young dead of gunshots in our schools.
No matter where your politics lie, unless you are dressed and fed and tickled by the hidden, even sinister interests, within and from without in this America, you are not even close to protection as a human being with aspiration and hope. Your right to “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” secured by so much sacrifice and once articulated by a gift such as Lincoln, are now empty words.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org